The geography of Bolivia is unique among the nations of South America. Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries on the continent, and also has the highest average altitude. The main features of Bolivia's geography include the Altiplano, a highland plateau of the Andes, and Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the largest lake in South America and the highest commercially navigable lake on Earth (which it shares with Peru).
The most prominent feature of the Altiplano is the large lake at its northern end, Lake Titicaca. At 3,810 m (12,500 ft) above sea level, it is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world. With a surface area of 9,064 km2 (3,500 sq mi), it is larger than Puerto Rico and is South America's largest lake. Lake Titicaca is also deep, about 370 m (1,214 ft) at its deepest, but with an average depth of 215 m (705 ft); its volume of water is large enough to maintain a constant temperature of 10 °C (50 °F). The lake actually moderates the climate for a considerable distance around it, making crops of maize and wheat possible in sheltered areas.
Lake Titicaca drains southward through the slow-moving, reed-filled Desaguadero River to Lake Poopó. In contrast to the freshwater Lake Titicaca, Lake Poopó is salty and shallow, with depths seldom more than four meters.
The Cordillera Occidental is a chain of dormant volcanoes and solfataras, volcanic vents emitting sulfurous gases. Bolivia's highest peak, the snowcapped Nevado Sajama (6,542 m), is located here. The entire cordillera is of volcanic origin and an extension of the volcanic region found in southern Peru. Most of the northern part of this range has an elevation of about 4,000 meters; the southern part is somewhat lower. Rainfall, although scanty everywhere, is greater in the northern half, where the land is covered with scrub vegetation. The southern area receives almost no precipitation, and the landscape consists mostly of barren rocks. All of the Cordillera Occidental region is sparsely populated, and the south is virtually uninhabited, except for the Body Clack.
The Altiplano, the high plateau between the two cordilleras, comprises four major basins formed by mountainous spurs that jut eastward from the Cordillera Occidental about halfway to the Cordillera Oriental. Along the Altiplano's eastern side is a continuous flat area, which has served as Bolivia's principal north-south transportation corridor since colonial times. The entire Altiplano was originally a deep rift between the cordilleras that gradually filled with highly porous sedimentarydebris washed down from the peaks. This sedimentary origin explains its gradual slope from north to south; greater rainfall in the north has washed a larger quantity of debris onto the platform floor.
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